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Change of pace

With the holiday halfway over, I’ve been feeling more rested, and was interested in doing something a little different today. The weather was really nice, and a coworker had previously suggested that I come with her to an animal shelter, and today we made it up there.

The shelter is called FOD, and it’s sort of on the southern edge of the city, about a 20 minute bus ride from the main bus terminal followed by a 15 minute walk more or less into the woods.

Once there, we got to take a couple of dogs out for a walk. They were very well behaved and were pros at begging for treats. After taking the dogs for a walk, we were introduced into some very cute puppies. All in all, it was a nice and relaxing afternoon, and walking the dogs was a nice change from going to the gym.

Norwegian Holidays

The Easter holidays start on Thursday.  Actually, for many Norwegians, the holiday started last Friday.  While around 90% of Norwegians technically belong to the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Norway, this is not an overly religious country.  For many Norwegians in Oslo, this long weekend is a chance for them to go skiing one last time before spring really arrives.  Plus, the holidays related to Easter guarantee a minimum number of days off.

In Norway, you only get a day off for a public holiday if you are normally scheduled to work on the day it falls.  This means that since Norway’s Constitution Day (May 17) falls on a Sunday this year, it’s not a real holiday to me – I have to be at work the Friday before and the Monday after.  It seems strange to me.  So this year, even though there are 10 public holidays, only 8 of them are actually days off for me, and it looks like next year will be even worse – 3 of the days fall on the weekend, as does January 1, 2011.  Darn.

For those of you who are curious, here are the public holidays for 2009:

1 Jan New Year’s Day. 
9 Apr
 Holy Thursday.
10 Apr Good Friday.
13 Apr Easter Monday.
1 May May Day.
17 May Constitution Day.
21 May Ascension.
1 Jun Whit Monday.
25-26 Dec Christmas.

Harrytur

There is something of a tradition in the eastern part of Norway to travel to Sweden on occasion to buy stuff, especially alcohol and tobacco, where it is generally much cheaper.  From Oslo, it takes around 1 1/2 to 2 hours each way to get to a town in Sweden where you can get your shopping done.  I was invited to go with some people on Saturday, and it was amazing just how many people were out there getting their shopping done.  Obviously there are some limitations – on alcohol and tobacco at least, there are limits on how much you can bring back into Norway without having to pay customs – it’s around 2 liters of wine, 1 liter of spirits, and some amount of beer – I think 2 liters, but I’m not sure.

This trip is called a “Harrytur”, or at least it has been for the past few years – since around 2002 when a politician named Lars Sponheim said the practice was “Harry”.  “Harry” is a derogatory term that has been around since the beginning of the 20th century and suggests that something is low-class or in bad taste.  Still, the Harrytur is popular, especially when 100 Swedish Kroners are only worth around 80 Norwegian Kroners.

Of course, as an American, I looked at this as a road trip, another great tradition!

Winter Continues

At one poSnow 2009int I was wondering if winter would ever arrive in Oslo.  Well, it did!  The picture on the right was taken in January, and illustrates just how much snow was falling at times!  There were a couple of weekends that were more or less nonstop snow!

Much of the snow has melted, but there are still piles along many roads, and in some parts of town, the sidewalks aren’t completely clear yet.  In fact, there was more snow this weekend, but it did not really stick.  –I’m talking about in Oslo, near the center of the city.  The further out you get, the more snow there is.  It’s important to remember that the city is situated more or less in a bowl.  The center of the city is located on the Oslofjorden, and the rest of the city rises up around it.  This is also why you can reach ski locations in less than an hour on the trams.

I am more or less ready for spring to arrive, however.  Don’t get me wrong, I love snow, but after a while you get tired of the ice and puddles of water.  From what I hear, though, our current weather may continue for a while – maybe into April.  Whatever comes, I’m sure I’ll manage.

Partying Norway Style

PartyAs an American, the way Norwegians party is somewhat different than what we’re used to.  While in America, you might just go to a club (or two or three) for the whole night, it’s quite a bit different over here.

Remember that alcohol is much more expensive in Norway.  This means that while Oslo isn’t a huge city, the prices of alcohol at bars and clubs are on the high side.  –You can easily pay between $7-$10 for a beer, and $13 or more for a mixed drink.  Partying in Oslo is a bit different because of this.  Typically you start your drinking at someone’s house or apartment, and you’ll probably be buzzed or more by the time you leave – often around midnight – to go to a club.  The clubs are open until 3am (that’s when they’re required to stop serving alcohol, and although I don’t think they have to close then, they probably figure there’s no point to stay open if they’re not making money).  After that, you may go to an after-party (I’ll have to get the spelling for the Norwegian terms).  The after party is much more subdued since people try to be polite to those living around them who may not be up as late, but can last until it’s daylight.

When you get invited to a party, there are a couple of main things to remember.  First, bring alcohol – whether you prefer beer, wine, or something else, bring your own drinks.  Even though it’s cheaper to buy beer in the grocery stores or wine & sprirts at the Vinmonopolet, it’s still not cheap.  –A six pack of beer (3 liters) such as Tuborg, Hansa, or the other brands will still cost you between 100 and 200 Kroners (approximatly $15-$30), so you can imagine how much the booze for 15 people would end up costing if one person had to buy it.  If you do forget the first time, you’ll probably be ok since you’ll have the foreigner thing going for you, and nobody will say anything, but I doubt you want to make the same mistake twice.  The second thing to remember is that everyone takes off their shoes at the door.  Especially in the winter when it can be rather messy out, you don’t want to be tracking mud all over the floor.

I doubt you’ll have much trouble finding people to talk to at a party – people are all very polite, although occasionally you’ll find people who are embarassed to speak much English (unlike the typical Norwegian who loves to practice), but overall people love to find out more about you.  Also, score bonus points by asking them to help you with pronunciation or to teach you a new word or phrase.  🙂

Getting Out

I’ve mentioned it before, but it can be rather difficult to meet people in Norway.  While people at work are friendly, work and after work are very different, and coworkers rarely seem to go out together for drinks or anything else.  In America especially, but also in many other places, if you go to a bar by yourself, you can probably still find people to talk to.  In Norway?  Not so much.

So how do you meet people?  I’m still trying to find out, but I do have some advice that I have come up with or received from others:

  • Use opportunities at work.  As I mentioned above, it’s fairly rare that coworkers go out together after work in Norway, but it does happen, and when it does, take advantage of it.  Just know that Norwegians can really put away their alcohol!  Also, depending on where you work, you might find people who get together to play sports.  Where I work, for example, there’s a small group of people that play floor hockey every week.  It’s a friendly game where the teams are chosen pretty much randomly every time, and it’s a nice way to get exercise while interacting with people outside of work.
  • Online groups can be helpful.  I just found out about the New to Oslo Yahoo group and attended a gathering on Friday night.  The folks at this meeting were mostly American, but included people from Spain, France, and a couple of other countries as well, and they’ve all been through this or are going through it, so it’s nice to have people who can sympathize with you.  There is also an American’s in Norway group on Facebook, which has some traffic even if it isn’t a hive of activity.
  • Here’s some advice I’ve received: if you do start meeting Norwegians, don’t tell them you don’t know how long you’re staying or that you don’t know.  Let them assume you plan on being here more or less permanently, otherwise they don’t seem to be as likely to take the time to get to know you or consider you a friend.
  • Learn Norsk!  This takes time, of course, but it’s worth it to try.  For one thing, it’s a matter of respect.  –Norwegian is their native language, and even though they may speak English very well, you should at least be willing to try and learn it if you’re going to live here.  But I also think it’s related to the point above.  –It shows you’re serious about living here.

If all else fails, you can still try and talk to random people, just don’t be surprised if they look at you like you’re crazy.

Nobel Peace Prize Concert

Martti AhtisaariEvery year on December 11, the Nobel Peace Prize committee hosts a concert to celebrate the winner.  This year the winner was Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, and apparently a skilled peace negotiator (he’s brokered peace agreements on three continents).

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the concert.  It may not have been the best seat possible, but it seems to have been one of the best seats you could get by buying the ticket online.  I found much of the concert to be quite good, although there were a few acts I was not a big fan of.

From Swedish pop artist Robyn, to Jason Mraz, to Finnish violinist Elina Vähälä (playing a Stradivarius, no less), it was a concert with almost every type of music.  I felt Mraz, Vähälä, and Il Devo were the highlights of the evening, but a coworker who also went was a big fan of Robyn’s performance.  Sean Kuti’s African rythms and Dierks Bentley’s American country music were not that great, but then again, those aren’t my types of music.

If you have the opportunity to attend the concert in the future, I would definitely recommend it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always the greatest music (this year Diana Ross was the headliner, and I just wasn’t impressed by her performance at all), but at the same time, how often do you get to go to a concert attended by a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, not to mention Norwegian royalty?

Oh, by the way, people often ask why Alfred Nobel, a Swede, decreed that the Peace Prize should be chosen by a committee appointed by the Norwegian government and presented in Oslo, rather than in Stockholm like the other prizes.  It’s not a question anyone can answer with certainty, but it kind of makes sense.  When Nobel died, Norway was in a union with Sweden, and the Norwegian parliament was only responsible for internal matters.  It’s widely believed that Nobel felt that a committee chosen by the Norwegian government would be much less succeptible to outside pressures as opposed to a committee chosen by Sweden.  Oh, and Norwegians like to believe that Nobel thought they were less warlike than the Swedes, however true that may or may not be!

He said what now?

It’s been six months, and I finally decided it’s time to sign up for Norwegian classes.  So, starting January 6, I’ll be attending two classes a week for six weeks.  We’ll see how things go from there, but the school I’m going through, the Folkeuniversitetet, offers seven classes.  Norway requires 300 hours of classes (a combination of language and cultural classes, apparently) for people who will be applying for permanent residency or citizenship.  –I’m not planning on doing either of these, certainly not any time soon, but learning the language will be good no matter what.

I’ll try to post more information about the classes as I take them.  And maybe even start posting something in Norwegian on occasion.

Things you don’t find in Norway…

Still working on getting back to a normal posting schedule – ideally I’d like to have a new post up at least every 5 days, but for some reason I still seem to be having trouble doing that.

Anyway, I’ve been looking for some things that I just cannot find in Norway, or are hard to find.  I’ll add more to this list as I think of them.

  • Pie pans (strange, I know, but I’ve been to at least 10 stores, including IKEA, and nobody has pie pans)
  • Butterscotch chips (luckily I had a way to order some)

Things that have been hard to find:

  • Baking soda

And finally, things that have been surprisingly easy to find:

  • Karo corn syrup
  • Canned pumpkin, and Libby’s pumpkin pie mix (hard to use without the pie pans, though)

And amazingly, Deli De Luca has apparently started stocking Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese!

Snow!

Well, the election is over, and I’ve managed to pull myself away from Fallout 3 long enough for a quick post.

Back on October 29, Oslo had a snow day!  It really was quite beautiful, as you can see from the picture below.  Since then it’s ranged from quite warm to a bit chilly, but nothing too bad.  This morning was extremely wet, though.  I’m really hoping to see more snow later this winter (hopefully sooner rather than later).

From what I can tell – we’ll see if I still believe this in a couple of months – if you can survive a Chicago winter, you can survive winter in Oslo.  The biggest difference is the days are shorter over here.Snow in Oslo - November 2008

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